Title: Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best
Director: Ryan O’Nan
Starring: Ryan O’Nan, Michael Weston, Arielle Kebbel, Andrew McCarthy, Christopher McDonald, Jason Ritter, Wilmer Valderrama, Kate Baldwin, Charles Chu, Gregg Edelman, Melissa Leo, Jake Miller
An offbeat, hipster-inflected road movie that almost steadfastly refuses to conform to expectation and sense, multi-hyphenate Ryan O’Nan’s “Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best” is a to-scale victory of quirky charm and feeling over sagacity. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, which it kind of is, it’s also one certainly fitting for its protagonists. The tale of two struggling musicians trying to find their place in the world, “Brooklyn Brothers” is a film with a restless soul. It likely wouldn’t exist in a world without Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen movies, and yet for all its considerable outlandishness it doesn’t concern itself with or model itself after those comedies. It’s something of an analog dramedy in a digital world.
When it rains it pours for underachieving New Yorker Alex (O’Nan), a would-be musician who can’t seem to catch a break. Dumped by a girlfriend and ditched by bandmate Kyle (Jason Ritter), Alex snaps and quits his mind-numbing day job at a low-level real estate office, only to land in further hot water when one of his weekly musical therapy performances for special needs teens goes awry. Seemingly out of nowhere appears Jim (Michael Weston), a gung-ho oddball who channels his unique musical sensibilities through a variety of children’s instruments.
Jim tells Alex he’s a huge fan of his, and that he has a cross-country tour for which he needs a partner already booked, culminating in a battle-of-the-bands contest out west. Throwing caution to the wind, Alex finally agrees to join Jim on this unlikely journey. Hijinks ensue, naturally. Along the way the pair pick up Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel), a small town Pennsylvania girl looking for adventure, and even end up paying a visit to Alex’s much older brother Brian (Andrew McCarthy), where Alex connects with his 10-year-old nephew, Jackson (Jake Miller).
Drafting several friends and colleagues from past projects, O’Nan (“The Dry Land”) crafts a broad enough palette to capture and hold a viewer’s interest. Abetted by good work from cinematographer Gavin Kelly, “Brooklyn Brothers” is rangy enough that the sort of discrete set pieces that road movies naturally engender feel fairly practical, and diverse to boot. If there’s a problem, it lies in the movie’s sometimes whiplash-inducing tone, and its scattershot focus. Weston feels like he stepped out from an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”-based improv class, while O’Nan has a raw-nerve melancholy that — even when filtered through dialogue meant to be a bit funny — bends toward the realistic. That’s not really the case with Jim.
Certain narrative beats, too, feel more like duty-bound inclusion than honestly invested in, as if O’Nan had some Conventional Story Nazi peering over his shoulder and rapping his knuckles, preventing him from fully veering off into completely wild, “Napoleon Dynamite”-type territory that the movie’s opening initially augurs. A more disciplined “bromance,” sifting through personality and attitudinal changes in Alex and Jim triggered and enforced by one another, might have made for a film of deeper and more lasting interest, but such a focus is perverted by the inclusion of Cassidy, which comes across as a sop toward conventionality.
Still, “Brooklyn Brothers” is different in many other respects, and its atypicality and handcrafted qualities make it more endearing than something more polished, and that tries harder for laughs in every scene. The film’s music, too — a kind of nerdy synth-pop characterized by Cassidy as “something David Bowie would have done when he was six years old,” and another character as “the Shins meets ‘Sesame Street'” — is one of its undeniable selling points. If its romance feels forced, the original songs by O’Nan, Brendan Leach and Keith Freudenberger (an album is forthcoming from Rhino Records) root Alex’s journey and the movie as a whole, and give it a sincere heart. “Brooklyn Brothers” isn’t the best, but it beats plenty of other indie offerings out there.
NOTE: For more information, visit www.BrooklynBrothersMovie.com.
Written by: Brent Simon